Splendors and miseries of the brain. (2009)
“People in powerful positions who reject the idea that exercising their power changes their brain’s neurobiology would do well to reflect on Zeki’s work illustrating the vulnerability of brain chemistry to the power of love
Semir Zeki, visual neurobiologist in the Department of Cognitive Neurology at University College London.
People in powerful positions who reject the idea that exercising their power changes their brain’s neurobiology would do well to reflect on Zeki’s work illustrating the vulnerability of brain chemistry to the power of love.
Referencing work by Marazziti, Akiskal, Rossi and Cassano*, Zeki observes that the passion of love creates feelings of exhilaration and euphoria. The areas of the brain that are activated by romantic feelings largely coincide with the regions that contain high concentrations of dopamine, a neuro-modulator associated with reward, desire, addiction, and euphoric states. Dopamine release creates a ‘feel good’ state, and dopamine seems to be intimately linked not only to the formation of relationships but to sex, which consequently comes to be regarded as a rewarding exercise.
Dopamine is released by the hypothalamus, a structure deep in the brain that functions as a link between the nervous and endocrine systems. These are the same regions that become active when opioids like cocaine are ingested, inducing similar states of euphoria.
This increase in dopamine is coupled to a decrease in serotonin which is linked to appetite and mood. Studies have shown that the typical depletion of serotonin in the early stages of romantic love reflects levels found in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Access the book here: Splendors and miseries of the brain
Zeki has pioneered the study of the primate visual brain and furthered research on how affective states are generated by visual inputs. He has published extensively in his field, including the books Inner Vision: an Exploration of Art and the Brain (1999) and A Vision of the Brain (Wiley-Blackwell, 1993), and has also co-authored a book with the late French painter Balthus, entitled La Quête de l’essentiel (1995).
* Marazziti D, Akiskal HS, Rossi A, Cassano GB (1999)
Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love
Psychol Med 29: 741-745
Their paper is accessible here Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love
Other researchers have shed further light on physical changes to the brain in response to external triggers. For example:
“The early stages of romantic love seem to correlate also with another substance, nerve growth factor which has been found to be elevated on those who have recently fallen in love compared to those who are not in love or who have stable, long lasting, relationships.”
Emanuele E, Politi P, Bianchi M, Minoretti P, Bertona M, Geroldi D (2006)
Raised plasma nerve growth factor levels associated with early stage romantic love Psychoneuroendocrinology 31: 288-294
Access their paper here: http://www.psyneuen-journal.com/article/S0306-4530(05)00197-6/abstract
More background reading in this area includes:
Bartels A, Zeki S (2006)
The neural correlates of maternal and romantic love
Neuroimage 21(3): 1155-1166
Accessible here: The neural correlates of maternal and romantic love
Aron A, Fisher, Mashek DJ, Strong G, Li H, Brown LL (2005)
Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love
J Neurophysiol 94 (1):327-337.
Accessible here: Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love